Connie Nielsen

Wonder Woman (2017, Patty Jenkins)

Wonder Woman has one set of official, awkward bookends and one set of unofficial ones. The former does lead Gal Gadot no favors–after spending a moving building a character, it goes all tabula rosa and turns Gadot into little more than a licensing image. The latter does the film no favors. The latter is lousy CG composites. Wonder Woman is full of them, but none of them are worse than the first one and the last one. They jarringly destroy any verisimilitude director Jenkins and Gadot (in the case of the closing bookend) have been working towards. At least in the prologue–which comes after the first bookend (Allan Heinberg’s script is never plotted well)–there’s the rest of the film. But to close on being yanked out of the picture? It’s the final kick in Wonder Woman’s shins.

After the silly opening frame, bad composite or not, Wonder Woman gets off to a strong start. Connie Nielsen is queen of the Amazons, Robin Wright is general of the Amazons. Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey play the younger versions of Gadot but they’re not the point. Nielsen and Wright are the point. Nielsen’s solid, Wright’s awesome. The costumes are a little questionable, as they’re on an island paradise and Nielsen’s in furs? But it’s good.

Then it’s time for Gadot to take over the role and for Chris Pine to literally fall into her lap. Everything starts moving rather quickly–Pine’s arrival, a battle scene with the Amazons versus German soldiers, Gadot and Nielsen bickering, Gadot heading into the world of man. She can never return to her family, but it’s okay because she’s got a mission. It’s World War I and she’s got to save the world, based on bedtime stories Nielsen told Aspell. Turns out they’re the Amazon equivalents of Santa Claus, which should break some of the film’s logic but no one seems to care.

It’s unfortunate Gadot and Nielsen–and Gadot and Wright–never really get scenes together. It’s always plot perturbing scenes, nothing to build the relationships. Again, Heinburg’s script is never plotted well. Ever.

Anyway, Gadot and Pine have immediate chemistry and for a while Wonder Woman is able to coast. Sure, the CGI London is small and weak, but World War I is a great setting for human sadness. The film oscillates between introducing Gadot and Pine’s ragtag team of personable sidekicks–Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, David Thewlis–and showing Gadot all the horrors people inflict on other people. Ostensibly it should add to some character development for Gadot, but Heinburg and Jenkins don’t ever let it go towards character development.

I mean, they’re going to wipe the slate clean in the end, so why bother.

Tossed into this mix is Danny Huston and Elena Anaya as a German general and his pet scientist, respectively, who are trying to make a mustard gas variant to get through gas masks and kill everyone. And Gadot and Pine only have forty-eight hours to stop them.

Eventually, they get to the Front–where the film introduces Eugene Brave Rock as the last throwaway sidekick, an American Indian who’s a black market profiteer selling to both sides, even though the Germans are really, really, really, really bad guys in Wonder Woman. There Gadot gets to show off her superpowers for the first time, though only in one sequence–albeit an pretty awesome one, save the weak CG composites of course–before the film starts its downhill run into the third act.

Most of the action–including Gadot and Pine sailing from “Paradise Island” to England–takes place in four or five days. And the big battle finale, with its numerous revelations and plot twists, takes up maybe a quarter of the film. Then it’s time for the closing bookend, which echoes one of the weakest revelation sequences from the finale, and the movie’s over.

Gadot’s good, regardless of the film eschewing the idea she’s supposed to be developing a character. Pine’s good. Davis, Taghmaoui, Bremner, Thewlis, and Brave Rock are good. Everyone’s good. The acting isn’t an issue, it’s the writing and the pacing. And the film’s reliance on some shallow, manipulative (and not even good manipulative) radio show positive message philosophy to wrap things up nice and tidy. Except Wonder Woman is supposed to be, at least on some level, a war movie–seeing sweet little Aspell get wide-eyed and excited at the prospective of war is something else–and the tidy finish rings false.

Better special effects would’ve helped. Not setting the last battle sequence entirely at night and in confined spaces would’ve helped too. A lot of things–like a better screenwriter than Heinburg, a better cinematographer than Matthew “shooting through pea soup” Jensen, a better score than Rupert Gregson-Williams can deliver–would’ve helped. Jenkins does fine with what she’s got. And editor Martin Walsh is all right.

The Wonder Woman action guitar riff (which isn’t even original to this film) is dumb.

The film ends up completely wasting Huston and Anaya. Anaya, actually, twice gets to be a metaphor for the script’s utter lack of integrity.

Still, it could be much worse. The bookends are almost threats to how much worse it could’ve been. But it’s a complete disservice to Gadot, who more than proves herself a capable lead.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Patty Jenkins; screenplay by Allan Heinberg, based on a story by Zack Snyder, Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs, and characters created by William Moulton Marston; director of photography, Matthew Jensen; edited by Martin Walsh; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; production designer, Aline Bonetto; produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, and Richard Suckle; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gal Gadot (Princess Diana of Themyscira), Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), Danny Huston (General Ludendorff), Elena Anaya (Dr. Isabel Maru), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), Robin Wright (General Antiope), Lucy Davis (Etta Candy), Saïd Taghmaoui (Sameer), Ewen Bremner (Charlie), Eugene Brave Rock (The Chief), and David Thewlis (Sir Patrick Morgan).


Perfect Sense (2011, David Mackenzie)

Perfect Sense goes out of its way to be an atypical disaster movie. Director Mackenzie and writer Kim Fupz Aakeson’s only significant acknowledgement of genre standards is having one of the protagonists pursue a solution. Except it’s never clear what epidemiologist Eva Green actually does–her job is clear, but what she does in pursuit of a solution is never clear.

Because, instead, Perfect Sense focuses on her relationship with the guy who works at the restaurant near her apartment, Ewan McGregor. Aaekson’s script uses the restaurant as the metaphor for what’s going on in the world as everyone slow but surely loses their senses. Literally.

Mackenzie and editor Jake Roberts do these montages, narrated by Green’s character (but not her), to show world events. They’re beautifully cut, precisely presented. Everything in Perfect Sense is precise. Its ninety minute run time is also essential–so much information is presented, but every small moment needs to carry weight. The viewer can’t be left to wander. Mackenzie controls the experience.

The film simultaneously has to be a Green and Macgregor’s romantic drama while still taking into account these apocalyptic plot points. Only those plot points can’t be overdone because Perfect Sense can’t appear constrained. The meticulousness of the film starts long before Mackenzie’s avoiding action set pieces.

The photography from Giles Nuttgens is fantastic–and Roberts’s editing on the other scenes is great as well. Max Richter’s music is spot on.

And Green and Macgregor are wonderful.

It’s deliberate, considered and successful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Mackenzie; written by Kim Fupz Aakeson; director of photography, Giles Nuttgens; edited by Jake Roberts; music by Max Richter; production designer, Tom Sayer; produced by Gillian Berrie, Tomas Eskilsson and Malte Grunert; released by IFC Films.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Michael), Eva Green (Susan), Ewen Bremner (James), Stephen Dillane (Stephen), Denis Lawson (Boss), Anamaria Marinca (Street Performer), Alastair Mackenzie (Virologist), Katy Engels (Narrator) and Connie Nielsen (Jenny).


Mission to Mars (2000, Brian De Palma)

If it had been made earlier–even with the same flawed script–Mission to Mars would probably have been more successful. Many of its failings relate to the CG special effects. Stephen H. Burum is incompetent at lighting them, but they also bring an artificiality to the film’s tensest sequences. So, while Ennio Morricone might have a fantastic piece of music for a suspense sequence and De Palma might be directing it fine, it doesn’t work out right because of the CG and Burum’s ineptness.

Mars has a lot more problems–Connie Nielsen being one of the bigger ones, the plot, De Palma’s inability to create a transcendent scene (it’s more literal than a grade school documentary about helium balloons), some other terrible supporting performances–but there are a lot of strengths. At the center of the picture are Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins and Don Cheadle as three NASA buddies. All of them are fantastic. Even with Sinise inexplicably wearing eyeliner. His hairpiece, while awful looking, is more understandable.

And the film does have a certain amount of earnestness and general wonderment. It takes De Palma about a half hour before he lets the film have that wonderment, which is a poor choice since he’s already taken it to Mars once without any grandeur. It’s a gee whiz adventure picture from someone who doesn’t know how to feel gee whiz.

Jerry O’Connell is good; otherwise, the supporting cast is lousy.

Mars fails, but does so very unfortunately and very interestingly.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by Jim Thomas, John Thomas and Graham Yost, based on a story by Lowell Cannon, Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Ed Verreaux; produced by Tom Jacobson; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Gary Sinise (Jim McConnell), Tim Robbins (Woody Blake), Don Cheadle (Luke Graham), Connie Nielsen (Terri Fisher), Jerry O’Connell (Phil Ohlmyer), Peter Outerbridge (Sergei Kirov), Kavan Smith (Nicholas Willis), Jill Teed (Reneé Coté), Elise Neal (Debra Graham), Kim Delaney (Maggie McConnell) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Ramier Beck).


Soldier (1998, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Someone must have realized Soldier had a lot of problems because there’s a terribly edited montage showing how Kurt Russell’s socially engineered future soldier is crushing on Connie Nielsen while her husband Sean Pertwee looks on in concern.

It gives Soldier a Shane feel, something the rest of the film doesn’t have. Like I said, it’s an awful montage–mixing footage from previous scenes and future ones with no sense of time–but all of Martin Hunter’s editing for Soldier is awful so it’s not a surprise.

Soldier‘s about Russell being replaced by genetically engineered future soldiers, who are “better”, and protecting a bunch of colonists whose spaceship crashed on the way to paradise. It’s a garbage planet too, which means it’s not really a Western in space… it’s a Western on a space garbage planet.

Anderson’s direction is occasionally mediocre, but mostly bad. He can’t figure out how to direct a fight scene, which is bad for the big finale between Russell and muscle-bound grotesque Jason Scott Lee. He also can’t direct his actors, so Gary Busey just embarrasses himself and Jason Isaacs is more cartoonish than Elmer Fudd.

There’s also a lot of slow motion and bad zooms and godawful music from Joel McNeely. Worse, the slow motion and worst music coincide; Anderson doesn’t trust his viewer to pick up on anything.

Russell’s not bad, though he can’t compete with the idiotic production. Sean Pertwee’s pretty good as Van Heflin, though his highlights are inexplicable.

Soldier‘s ghastly.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; written by David Webb Peoples; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Martin Hunter; music by Joel McNeely; production designer, David L. Snyder; produced by Jerry Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kurt Russell (Todd 3465), Jason Scott Lee (Caine 607), Jason Isaacs (Colonel Mekum), Connie Nielsen (Sandra), Sean Pertwee (Mace), Jared Thorne & Taylor Thorne (Nathan), Mark Bringelsorn (Rubrick), Gary Busey (Church), K.K. Dodds (Sloan), James Black (Riley), Mark De Alessandro (Goines), Vladimir Orlov (Romero), Carsten Norgaard (Green), Duffy Gaver (Chelsey), Brenda Wehle (Hawkins), Michael Chiklis (Jimmy Pig), Elizabeth Dennehy (Mrs. Pig) and Paul Dillon (Slade).


Rushmore (1998, Wes Anderson)

The best moment in Rushmore, the one it all comes together, is at the end, when Jason Schwartzmann dedicates his play to his mother. There’s a brief cut to Seymour Cassel and his reaction. It’s a beautiful little moment and quieter than the subsequent (and also incredibly quiet) moment with Vietnam vet Bill Murray tearing after watching the play. There’s stuff going on in Rushmore and Anderson and Wilson aren’t going to explain it to us. They make us aware of it–there’s an early mention of Murray’s service and a good deal of material about Schwartzmann’s mother’s passing, but there’s never anything about Murray’s feelings about Vietnam or Cassel’s experience with his wife’s death. It’s a stunning little move, infinitely precise, which might be the best way to describe Rushmore.

The film runs ninety-three minutes. Anderson and Wilson’s narrative, so exactly told in scene, has a searching quality to it. It’s impossible to label the film–it’s not just a friendship story between Schwartzmann and Murray or a (albeit strange) romance between Schwartzmann and Olivia Williams or a romantic triangle between Schwartzmann, Williams and Murray. Rushmore is all of those things, in addition to being a father and son story, a friendship story (between Schwartzmann and sidekick Mason Gamble) and a romance between Schwartzmann and Sara Tanaka. I can’t even get into the relationship between Schwartzmann and Brian Cox. It’s all too intricate and complex. It’s a film where the way an actor walks into the frame changes a scene dramatically, so unraveling and codifying it is a lot more work than I want to do (and probably impossible without a lot of notes). It’s an exponential web.

The first time I saw Rushmore, it didn’t blow me away. Looking at it now, with the performances–there isn’t a single unimpressive performance–with Anderson and Wilson’s control of dialogue and scene, not to mention Anderson’s direction… it’s clear there was something wrong with me. The second time I saw it, I got it. But even getting it, I don’t think I really appreciated it the way one can appreciate the film now. Every line delivery is full of so much vibrance–the scenes with Schwartzmann and Williams, it’s hard to even listen, because watching Williams’s reactions to him is so great.

The film also asks a great deal of its audience. The viewer has to fill in, in an instant, what Schwartzmann’s been doing since dropping out of school–Anderson and Wilson put the the onus on the viewer to arrange all the details him or herself. Or when it has to be clear to the viewer Murray and Williams have broken up before Schwartzmann asks about it. Rushmore is not a passive experience.

As for Murray… Rushmore really is Murray’s finest performance, before he started chasing Oscars. He’s as present in scenes where people talk about him as he is in his actual scenes.

Schwartzmann runs the film. He has to carry the whole thing not just with his performance, but with his presence. Schwartzmann’s expression rarely changes, but the character development–and seeing how he’s reacting–is stunning.

Williams, Gamble, Cox, all are great, all have some fantastic scenes. The script asks a lot of the actors, because they have to sell things in short periods of time, brief moments, and everyone comes through perfectly. Williams’s performance might be the film’s best, even better than Murray’s, which seems kind of impossible but kind of not.

Rushmore is a magnificent film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by David Moritz; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Barry Mendel and Paul Schiff; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Jason Schwartzman (Max Fischer), Bill Murray (Herman Blume), Olivia Williams (Rosemary Cross), Seymour Cassel (Bert Fischer), Brian Cox (Dr. Nelson Guggenheim), Mason Gamble (Dirk Calloway), Sara Tanaka (Margaret Yang), Stephen McCole (Magnus Buchan), Connie Nielsen (Mrs. Calloway), Luke Wilson (Dr. Peter Flynn), Dipak Pallana (Mr. Adams) and Andrew Wilson (Coach Beck).


The Ice Harvest (2005, Harold Ramis)

In the few reviews of The Ice Harvest I looked at before renting the DVD, the reviewers all called John Cusack’s lawyer character dumb. Watching the film, however, I noticed John Cusack was doing what he always does… playing John Cusack. So, I didn’t really see his character as stupid (I was trying to read so much into those reviews, I was actually questioning what the reviewers must have thought he should do scene to scene–but only for a little while, it got distracting). I queued The Ice Harvest this week because I’d forgotten about it. A film written by Robert Benton and Richard Russo, it’s of a particular pedigree. Harold Ramis seems an odd choice for a director, given I expected the Benton and Russo script to be incredibly quiet… and The Ice Harvest is incredibly quiet. More happens in the first fifteen minutes or so than in the rest of the movie, just because Cusack drives to more places in that time. But Ramis handles it quite beautifully. I was halfway through the film before I noticed just how good of a job he does.

Instead of being a heist at Christmas gone wrong (which is actually The Ref, isn’t it?), The Ice Harvest defines itself in the scenes between Cusack and Oliver Platt as a (quiet) rumination on the state of the American male. It’s almost a modern Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Platt’s excellent, of course, so’s Cusack (playing himself) and the rest of the cast is good. Billy Bob Thorton’s good, with the most laughs in the film. Randy Quaid, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, all good. The only problem with The Ice Harvest–besides its lack of focus, which is probably more serious than the following–is Connie Nielsen. Nielsen’s awful. She couldn’t sell shampoo, much less play a femme fatale. Her scenes drag The Ice Harvest to a halt–and at a fast-paced ninety minutes, it’s a hard thing to do. When it started and she showed up and was terrible, I really hoped it wasn’t Connie Nielsen. Maybe the character was just a throwaway, certainly not the third-billed. But the third-billed it was… She practically haunts the whole movie.

Overall, I’m really sorry I waited so long to see The Ice Harvest. I intended to see it in the theater, but never made it. Its quietness amid some really smarmy, loud settings makes it peculiar but still a very worthwhile film. It also has a nice lack of predictability thing going.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Ramis; written by Richard Russo and Robert Benton, based on the novel by Scott Phillips; director of photography, Alar Kivilo; edited by Lee Percy; music by David Kitay; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Focus Features.

Starring John Cusack (Charlie), Billy Bob Thornton (Vic), Connie Nielsen (Renata), Randy Quaid (Bill Guerrard), Oliver Platt (Pete) and Mike Starr (Roy).


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